Sunday, October 17, 2021

Owing Partnership Tax As A Partner


We have wrapped-up (almost) another filing season here at Galactic Command. I include “almost” as we have nonprofit 990s due next month, but for the most part the heavy lifting is done.

Tax seasons 2020 and 2021 have been a real peach.

I am looking at a tax case that mirrors a conversation I was having with one of our CPAs two or three days ago. He was preparing a return for someone with significant partnership investments. The two I looked at are commonly described as “trader” partnerships.

The tax reporting for trader partnerships can be confusing, especially for younger practitioners. A normal investment partnership buys and sells stocks and securities, collects interest and dividends and has capital gains or losses along the way. The tax reporting shows interest and dividends and capital gains and losses – in short, it makes sense.

The trader partnership adds one more thing: it actively buys and sells stocks and securities as a business activity, so to speak. Think of it as a day trader as opposed to a long-term investor. The tax issue is that one has interest, dividends and capital gains and losses from the trader side as well as the nontrader side. The trader partnership separates the two, with the result that trading dividends (as an example) might be reported somewhere different on the Schedule K-1 from nontrading dividends. If you don’t know the theory, it doesn’t make sense.

The two partnerships pumped out meaningful taxable income.

What they did not do was pump out equivalent cash distributions. In fact, I would say that the partnerships distributed approximately enough cash to pay the taxes thereon, assuming that the partner was near the highest tax bracket.

The client had issues with the draft tax return.


There was no way he could have that much income as he did not receive that much cash.

And therein is a lesson in partnership taxation.

Let’s take a look at the Dodd case.

Dodd was the office manager at a D.C. law firm. The firm specialized in real estate and construction law.

She in turn became a 33.5% member in a partnership (Cadillac) transacting in – wait on it – the purchase, leasing and sale of real property. The other 66.5% partner was an attorney-partner in the law firm.

Routine so far.

Cadillac did well in 2013. Her share of gains from property sales was over a $1 million. Her cash distributions were approximately $200 grand.

Got it: 20 cents on the dollar.

When she prepared her individual return, she included that $1 million-plus gain as well as partnership losses. She owed around $170 grand with the return.

She did not send a check for the amount due.

The case has been bogged-down in tax procedure for several years. The IRS wanted its tax, and Dodd in turn requested Collections (CDP) hearings. We have had three rounds of back-and-forth, with the result that we are still talking about the case in 2021.

Her argument?

Simple. She had never received the $1 million. The money instead went to the bank to pay down a line of credit.

This is going to turn out badly for Dodd.

At 30 thousand feet, partnership taxation is relatively intuitive. A partnership does not pay taxes itself. Rather it files a tax return, and the partners in the partnership are allocated their share of the income and are themselves responsible for paying taxes on that share.

The complexity in partnership taxation comes primarily from how one allocates the income, as tax attorneys and CPAs have had decades to bend the rules.

Notice that I did not say anything about cash distributions.

Mind you, it is bad business to pump-out taxable income without distributing cash to cover the tax, but it is unlikely that a partnership will distribute cash exactly equal to its income. Why? Here are a couple of reasons that come immediately to mind:

·      Depreciation

The partnership buys something and depreciates it. It is likely that the depreciation (which follows tax rules) will not equal the cash payments for whatever was bought.

·      Debt

Any cash used to repay the bank is cash not available to distribute to the partners.

There is, by the way, a technique to discourage creditors of a partner from taking a partner’s partnership interest. Why would a creditor do this? To get to those distributions, of course.

There is a legal issue here, however. Let’s say that you, me and Lucy decided to form a partnership. Lucy has financial difficulties, and one of her creditors takes over her partnership interest. You and I did not form a partnership with Lucy’s creditor; we formed a partnership with Lucy. That creditor cannot just come in and force you and me to be partners with him/her. The best the creditor can do is get a “charging order,” which means the creditor receives only the right to Lucy’s distributions. The creditor cannot otherwise vote, demand the sale of assets or force the termination of the partnership.

What do you and I do in response to the new guy?

The creditor will have to report Lucy’s share of the partnership income, of course.

We in turn make no distributions to Lucy - or to the new guy. The partnership distributes to you and me, but that creditor is on his/her own. Sorry. Not. Go away.

As you can guess, creditors are not big fans of going after debtor partnership interests.

Back to Dodd.

What did the Court say?

No matter the reason for nondistribution, each partner must pay taxes on his distributive share.”

To restate:

Each partner is taxed on the its distributive share of partnership income without regard to whether the income is actually distributed.”

Dodd had no hope with this argument.

Maybe she would have better luck with her Collections appeal, but that is not the topic of our discussion this time.

We have been discussing Dodd v Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2021-118.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Uber Driver Failed To Report Income

I am reading a case concerning an Uber driver who ran afoul of Form 1099 requirements.

The amounts at issue were impressive.

           Tax                          $193,784

           Penalties                  $ 85,354

Robert Nurumbi drove for Uber in 2015. He ran the business through a single-member LLC and used two bank accounts. Business was doing well. He bought multiple cars which he rented out to family and friends who drove for Uber through him. The twist to the tale is that all Uber payments were paid to the LLC’s bank account - meaning Nurumbi’s bank account, as he was the LLC - and he in turn would pay his family and friends.

Sounds like he established a small business, with employees and all.

Except that he treated his drivers as independent contractors, not employees. I get it: Uber is gig economy.

Every week Uber would pay Nurumbi. He would transfer the family-and-friends portion to a second bank account. He would sometimes pay them by electronic transfer; at other times he paid in cash. He did not keep documentation on these payments, and he further muddied the waters by also paying nondriver expenses from the second bank account.

He filed his 2015 personal tax return showing wages of approximately $19 grand.

Uber meanwhile issued him two 1099s totaling approximately $543 thousand.

The IRS saw a case of unreported income.

It is not clear to me how Nurumbi prepared his tax return, as a self-employed does not receive a W-2 from himself. He should have filed a Schedule C with his return, as Schedule C reports self-employed business activity. I would have expected his C to report gross receipts of approximately $543 grand, with a bunch of expenses reducing the net to approximately $19 thousand. The IRS would have matched Uber’s 1099 to the gross receipts on the Schedule C and spared us the drama.

However, Nurumbi did not prepare his taxes this way.

Dumb, I am thinking, but not necessarily fatal. Nurumbi would submit a Schedule C (or a facsimile thereof) and argue his point.

But the damage had been done. Nurumbi had spotted the IRS gross income of $543 grand. He next had to show expenses bringing his net income down to $19 thousand. This gave the IRS the chance to say: prove it.

Which is why we keep records: invoices, bank statements, cancelled checks, QuickBooks files and so forth.  

Nurumbi had a problem. He kept next to no records. He had not issued 1099s. His records in many cases were inadequate to even calculate a 1099.

Nurumbi played a wild card.

There is a court-created exception to the customary documentation requirements. It is called the Cohan rule, and it refers to the person and case that prompted the exception decades ago. The rule has two key requirements:

(1)  One must prove that the expenditure occurred, and

(2)  One must prove that the expenditure relates to and was incurred in one’s trade or business.

Even then, the exception will probably not yield the same result as keeping records. The Court may spot you something, but that something is likely to be much less than what you actually incurred.

Nurumbi’s records were so feckless that it would have been unsurprising if the Court allowed nothing.

Except …

Remember that he sometimes paid his drivers electronically from the second bank account.

The Court spotted him a deduction of approximately $157 grand for those payments.

What about the cash payments to his drivers?

No dice.

Let’s summarize the damage.

The IRS increased his 2015 income from $18 to $543 thousand.

The Court allowed a deduction of approximately $157 thousand.

There was another significant deduction that we did not discuss: the fee paid to Uber itself. That was approximately $163 thousand.

That still leaves a bump to income of almost $205 grand.

I believe that Nurumbi paid the money to his family and friends.

But there was no tax deduction.

To be fair, he is the one who decided to keep the payments under-the-table. While not stated, I suspect this … flexibility … was a key factor in the Court’s decision.

Our case this time was Nurumbi v Commissioner, TC Memo 2021-79.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Section 1202 Stock And A House Tax Proposal

I am not a fan of fickleness and caprice in the tax law.

I am seeing a tax proposal in the House Ways and Means Committee that represents one.

It has been several years since we spoke about qualified small business stock (QSBS). Tax practice is acronym rich, and one of the reasons is to shortcut who qualifies – and does not qualify – for a certain tax provision. Section 1202 defines QSBS as stock:

·      issued by a C corporation,

·      with less than $50 million in assets at time of stock issuance,

·      engaged in an active trade or business,

·      acquired at original issuance by an eligible shareholder in exchange for either cash or services provided, and

·      held for at least five years.

The purpose of this provision is to encourage – supposedly – business start-ups.


A portion of the gain is not taxed when one sells the stock.

This provision has been out there for approximately 30 years, and the portion not taxed has changed over time. Early on, one excluded 50% (up to a point); it then became 75% and is now 100% (again, up to a point).

What is that point?

The amount of gain that can be excluded is the greater of:

·      $10 million, or

·      10 times the taxpayer’s basis in the stock disposed


Does that mean I sell my tax practice for megabucks, all the while excluding $10 million of gain?

Well, no. Accounting practices do not qualify for Section 1202. Not to feel singled- out, law and medical practices do not qualify either.

I have seen very few Section 1202 transactions over the years. I believe there are two primary reasons for this:


(a)  I came into the profession near the time of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, which single-handedly tilted choice-of-entity for entrepreneurial companies from C to S corporations. Without going into details, the issue with a C corporation is getting money out without paying double tax. It is not an issue if one is talking about paying salary or rent, as one side deducts and the other side reports income. It is however an issue when the business is sold. The S corporation allows one to mitigate (or altogether avoid) the double tax in this situation. Overnight the S corporation became the entity of choice for entrepreneurial and closely-held companies. There has been some change in recent years as LLCs have gained popularity, but the C corporation continues to be out-of-favor for non-Wall Street companies. 


(b)  The sale of entrepreneurial and closely-held companies is rarely done as a stock purchase, a requirement for Section 1202 stock. These companies sell their assets, not their stock. Stock acquisitions are more a Wall Street phenomenon.

So, who benefits from Section 1202?

A company that would be acquired via a stock purchase. Someone like … a tech start-up, for example. How sweet it would have been to be an early investor in Uber or Ring, for example. And remember: the $10 million cap is per investor. Take hundreds of qualifying investors and you can multiply that $10 million by hundreds.

You can see the loss to the Treasury.

Is it worth it?

There has been criticism that perhaps the real-world beneficiaries of Section 1202 are not what was intended many years ago when this provision entered the tax Code.

I get it.

So what is the House Ways and Means Committee proposing concerning Section 1202?

They propose to cut the exclusion to 50% from 100% for taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) over $400 grand and for sales after September 13, 2021.

Set aside the $400 grand AGI. That sale might be the only time in life that someone ever got close to or exceeded $400 grand of income.

The issue is sales after September 13, 2021.

It takes at least five years to even qualify for Section 1202. This means that the tax planning for a 2021 sale was done on or before 2016, and now the House wants to retroactively nullify tax law that people relied upon years ago.

Nonsense like this is damaging to normal business. I have made a career representing entrepreneurs and their closely-held businesses. I have been there – first person singular - where business decisions have been modified or scrapped because of tax disincentives. Taxing someone to death clearly qualifies as a business disincentive. So does retroactively changing the rules on a decision that takes years to play out. Mind you – I say that not as a fan of Section 1202.

To me it would make more sense to change the rules only for stock issued after a certain date – say September 13, 2021 – and not for sales after that date. One at least would be forewarned.   

Should bad-faith tax proposals like this concern you?

Well, yes. If our current kakistocracy can do this, what keeps them from retroactively revoking the current tax benefits of your Roth IRA?  How would you feel if you have been following the rules for 20 years, contributing to your Roth, paying taxes currently, all with the understanding that future withdrawals would be tax-free, and meanwhile a future Congress decides to revoke that rule - retroactively?

I can tell you how I would feel.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Receiving An IRS Lock-In Letter


A client recently picked up his personal tax return. He asked to see me.

There was tax due with the return. I thought he had adjusted his withholding to increase his take-home pay, as he had spoken to me of financial stress. I am not a fan of doing this, as tax is due whether one withholds or not.   

He could not have tax due with his return, he explained, as he had received a lock-in letter from the IRS.

There is something I do not often see.

There are two versions of the lock-in letter: one sent to the employee and another to the employer. The IRS is telling both that it wants additional withholding from each paycheck, commonly meaning single withholding with no dependents.

The lock-in surprised me, as my client is not one to game the system. What he did was fall behind on his taxes due to a failed business. There are liens – IRS and private - that he is working through.

The IRS sends the employee a letter informing him/her that his/her withholdings are too low. The IRS wants the employee to self-adjust by increasing their withholding.

If that fails, the IRS sends the employer a letter. An employer has 60 days from the date of the letter to unilaterally adjust the employee’s withholdings.

The employee can quit, but the lock is good for 12 months. The employee will have to go somewhere else for a year before returning if he/she wishes to avoid the lock.

The 60 days has two purposes:

(1)  To allow the employer time to make the changes, and 

(2)  To prompt the employee to contact the IRS. If so – and if the employee can persuade the IRS – the IRS may modify the lock.

If the employee keeps his/her nose clean, he/she can request the IRS remove the lock-in. Figure that it will take about three years of tax returns, however, so it is best to avoid the lock altogether.

The employer is extremely unlikely to buck the IRS, as the employer might then draw surrogate liability. One might be a valued employee, but one is not that valued. 

Let’s look at a case.

Charles G worked for Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA). He submitted a W-4 to VTNA claiming that he was exempt from income tax withholding. He also requested VTNA to stop withholding social security taxes.

VTNA was surprisingly tolerant. It spotted Charles a 99-dependent W-4 (affecting income tax withholding), although it could not do anything about the social security.

Charles went a couple of years or so before the IRS contacted him. He blew it off, so the IRS sent VTNA a lock-in letter.

Charles went ballistic.

Charles accused the IRS and VTNA of “acting in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).”

Wow. I wonder how it went come employee review time.

The Court of course dismissed Charles’ claim against VTNA. In general, an employer must follow an employee’s request concerning withholding. If the employee asserts that he/she is exempt from withholding, then the employer must comply with such request unless certain situations occur. A lock-in letter is one of those situations.

It sounds rather self-evident, truthfully.

It also sounds like Charles was a bit of a tax protestor. A word of advice: don’t go there with Charles. Your chances of success are between zero and none, and the list of dead bodies on that hill stretches interminably. Several years ago, we represented a business having an officer the IRS considered a protestor. I did not agree with the IRS on this, but I admit that he was getting close to the line.  The audit was … unpleasant. There was no question that school was in session, and the IRS was looking to teach a lesson.

Our case this time was Giles v Volvo Trucks of North America, 551 F. Supp 2nd 359.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Becoming Personally Liable For An Estate’s Taxes


I had lunch with a friend recently. He is executor for an estate and was telling me about some … questionable third-party behavior and document discoveries. I left the conversation underwhelmed with his attorney and recommending a replacement as soon as possible. There are two other beneficiaries to this estate, and he has a fiduciary responsibility as executor.

Granted, all are family and get along. The risk - it seems to me - is minimal.

It is not always that way. I have a client whose family was ripped apart by an inheritance. I shake my head, as there was not enough money there (methinks) to spat over, much less exact lifelong grudges. However, he was executor and so-and-so received such-and-such back when Carter first started making liver pills and he should have offset someone for … oh, who knows.

Being executor can be a thankless job.

It can also get one into trouble.

Let’s take a look at the Lee estate.

Kwang Lee died testate in September, 2001.

         COMMENT: Testate means someone died with a will.

A municipal court judge was named executor.

The judge filed the estate return in May, 2003.

COMMENT: The return was late, but there was some complexity as both spouses died within six months. There was language in the will about a-spouse-is-considered-to-survive-if that created some confusion.

COMMENT: It doesn’t matter. You know the IRS is coming in with penalties.

The IRS audited the return.

 In April 2006 the IRS issued a Notice of Deficiency for over $1,000,000. 

COMMENT: The IRS also wanted a penalty over $255 grand for late filing.

The executor filed with the Tax Court.

 In February, 2007 the executor distributed $640,000 to the beneficiaries.

COMMENT: Pause on what happened here. The IRS wanted additional tax and penalties. The executor was contesting this in Tax Court. The issue was live when the executor distributed the money.

Is there a risk?

You bet.

What if the estate lost its case and did not have enough money left to pay the tax and penalties?

The Tax Court gave the executor a partial win: the estate owed closer to a half million dollars than a million. The Court also waived the penalties.

The estate did not have a half million dollars. It did have $182,941.

The estate submitted an offer in compromise to the IRS for $182,941.

The IRS looked at the offer and said: are you kidding me? What about that $640,000 you distributed before its time?

The IRS pointed out this bad boy:

31 U.S. Code § 3713.Priority of Government claims


(1) A claim of the United States Government shall be paid first when—

(A) a person indebted to the Government is insolvent and—

(i) the debtor without enough property to pay all debts makes a voluntary assignment of property;

(ii) property of the debtor, if absent, is attached; or

(iii) an act of bankruptcy is committed; or

(B) the estate of a deceased debtor, in the custody of the executor or administrator, is not enough to pay all debts of the debtor.

(2) This subsection does not apply to a case under title 11.

(b) A representative of a person or an estate (except a trustee acting under title 11) paying any part of a debt of the person or estate before paying a claim of the Government is liable to the extent of the payment for unpaid claims of the Government. 

The effect of Section 3713 is to make the executor personally liable for a debt to the U.S. when: 

o  The estate was rendered insolvent by a distribution, and

o  The executor had knowledge or notice of the government’s claim at the time of the distribution.

The judge/executor did the only thing he could do: he challenged the charge that he had actual knowledge of a deficiency when he distributed the $640,000.

The executor was hosed. I am not sure what more of a wake-up-call the executor needed than an IRS Notice of Deficiency. For goodness’ sake, he filed a petition with the Tax Court in response.

Maybe he thought that he would win in Tax Court.

He did, by the way, but partially. The tax was cut in half, and the penalties were waived.

Notice that the estate would not have had enough money had it lost the case in full. The tax would have been over a million, with additional penalties of a quarter million. Under the best of circumstances, the estate would have had cash of approximately $822 thousand and unable to pay in full.

In that case I doubt Section 3713 would have applied. The estate would have conserved its cash upon receiving a Notice of Deficiency.

But the estate did not conserve its cash upon receiving a Notice of Deficiency.

The executor became personally liable.

Mind you, this may work out. Perhaps the beneficiaries return the cash; perhaps there is a claim under a performance bond.

Still, why would an executor – especially a skilled attorney and municipal judge – go there?

Our case this time was Estate of Lee v Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2021-92.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Abusing A Tax-Exempt

I am looking at a tax-exempt case that went off the rails.

There are rules in the tax-exempt area to encourage one to keep their nose clean. The rules can be different depending on whether the entity is a private foundation or not. The reason is that a foundation is generally considered more susceptible to influence than a “classic” tax-exempt, such as a 501(c)(3), as a foundation generally has a smaller pool of donors.

A doctor (Dr O) organized a 501(c)(3) called American Medical Missionary Care, Inc (AMMC) in 1998. In 2000 it applied for and received tax-exempt status from the IRS. Its exempt purpose was to operate a clinic in Michigan providing medical examination and treatment for individuals unable to afford such services.

Sounds like a great cause to me.

Dr O served as president. His spouse (Mrs O) served on the board of directors as well as secretary and treasurer over the years.

In 2013 AMMC filed its Form 990 reporting compensation of $26,000 paid Dr O and $21,000 paid Mrs O.

AMMC however issued W-2s of $26,000 apiece.

There is a mistake here, but it is not necessarily a big deal. They should tighten down the numbers going forward, though.

On its 2014 Form 990 AMMC reported no compensation to Dr or Mrs O.

Seems odd. Compensation does not tend to turn off and on like a spigot.

Meanwhile, Dr O had gotten in trouble with the Michigan Board of Medicine in 2014. He was required to pay a significant amount of money and also relinquished his medical license. Dr O eventually returned to Nigeria in 2017, leaving his wife in the United States.

The IRS selected the nonprofit for examination.

The revenue agent dug around the AMMC’s various bank accounts for 2014 and found biweekly checks to Mrs O of $1,000 each. There were also certified checks ranging from $6,000 to $10,000. In all, Dr and Mrs O had received cash, checks and money orders from AMMC totaling approximately $130 thousand.

The 990 showed the $130 grand as a loan receivable from Dr O.

Oh please.

Dr O got into trouble and needed cash. He turned to AMMC because that is where the money was. A loan implies an ability to repay and intent to collect, all within the normal course and conduct of business. I seriously doubt that is what we had here.

Dr O and Mrs O had outsized influence over the (c)(3). Who was going to tell them no, much less point out that making loans to officers and board members is minefield territory in the tax Code?

The IRS revenue agent felt the same way and assessed a tier-one penalty.

Penalties in the nonprofit area can be a bit different. There can be penalties on an individual or on the entity itself, for example. The more severe penalties revolve around “excess benefit” transactions and “disqualified persons,” which are – as you might suspect – people with substantial authority or influence over the tax-exempt. Dr O organized AMMC years before and served as its president. He was a poster child for a disqualified person.

The IRS assessed a tier-one penalty of $32,500. It also revoked the exempt status of AMMC.

Let’s walk through the tiered penalty.

The IRS assessed a tier-one penalty of $32,500 on the O's. This is 25% of the $130,000 that Dr and Mrs O drew in 2014. The reason I call it a “tier-one” is that there is a possible “tier two.” To avoid a tier-two, one has to return the money to the tax-exempt.

What happens if one fails to return the money?

The penalty goes to 200%.

This is one of the severest penalties in the tax Code, and Congress intended it that way. Years ago, the only recourse the IRS had was to revoke the entity’s exempt status. Congress felt that this response was a sledgehammer, and it instead created a set of “intermediate” penalties, shifting the burden to the person benefiting from the transaction. With that as background, Congress did not consider 200 percent as excessive.

So the O’s now had another penalty of $230,000.

COMMENT: 200 percent of $130,000 is $260,000, not $230,000. The Court made some tweaks which need not concern us here.

You may be wondering why Dr O would care, if he was safely ensconced in Nigeria.

For one, his wife was still in the United States.

And she was on the Board. She had served as secretary and treasurer. She was a disqualified person in her own right. She was also considered to be a disqualified person by being married to a disqualified person. She was not getting out of this snare.

Mrs O was going to get hammered.

She fielded a last stand:

(1) She argued that much of the money was distributed to needy people to help with rent and utilities, after-school programs for the kids and so forth.

Problem was: she had no records to substantiate any of this. She had not drawn checks in a manner commensurate with this storyline, although she testified that she would hold and re-deposit the certified checks back into the (c)(3) if and as needed. The Court was – by this point – quite skeptical of anything she had to say.

(2)  She argued that much of the money represented compensation to either her or both Dr O and her.

This was her best argument, but unfortunately this route was closed to her.

You see, AMMC should have issued W-2s if it intended for the monies to represent compensation. The tax-exempt did not issue W-2s for 2014. It did not even authorize compensation in its minutes. Some things have to be done currently, and this is one of those things.

A W-2 (or 1099) would have saved a penalty equal to twice its face amount. That is, a $26,000 W-2 to Dr O would have saved a penalty of $52,000 ($26,000 times 200%).

It was a worst-case scenario for the O’s.

Then again, they abused AMCC. That money did not belong to the O’s. It belonged to the (c)(3). The exempt purpose of AMMC was to assist the poor with access to medical care, not to enrich its founding family after the loss of a medical license.

Our case this time was Ononuju v Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2021-94.


Sunday, August 15, 2021

"I Never Heard Of The Alternative Minimum Tax"


I am looking at a case that involves the alternative minimum tax.

While it still exists, much of the steam has thankfully been taken out of the AMT. It started off as Congressional reaction to a handful of ultrawealthy families paying little to no income taxes decades ago. Congress’s response was to require a second tax calculation, disallowing certain things – such as exemptions for your dependents.

Yes, you read that correctly, you large-family tax scofflaw.

Now, it wouldn’t be so bad if this thing had been scaled to only reach the wealthy and ultrawealthy, but that is not what Congress did. Congress instead gave you a spot, and then you were on your own. For 2017 that spot was approximately $84 grand in income for marrieds filing jointly.

I used to see the AMT as often as a Gibson’s employee sees donuts.

Thankfully the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 did a couple of things to defang the AMT:

(1) It increased the exemption (that is, the spot) for everyone. Marrieds now have an exemption of approximately $115,000, for example.

(2)  More importantly, it adjusted a previous rule that phased-out the exemption as one’s income increased. For example, marrieds in 2017 would start phasing-out when their income reached approximately $160,000. Now it is over $1 million, which makes a lot more sense it if was truly targeted at the wealthy.

Why the absurdly low previous income thresholds for the AMT, especially since it was supposed to target the “rich?” Think of it as Congressional addiction to paper crack – the paper being your dollar bills.

The tax law is a little saner until 2026, when the TCJA goes “poof.” Much prior tax law will then resurrect – including the previous version AMT.

Robert Colton and Alina Mazwin (R&A) filed a joint return for 2016.

The IRS did its computer matching and sent them a notice. There was $125,000 reported by JP Morgan Chase Bank. The IRS wanted taxes on it.

R&A explained to the IRS that the $125,000 was a legal settlement, and that half of it went to Mr Colton’s ex-spouse.

The IRS said OK, but we want taxes on the $62,500.

Let’s take an aside here. You may have heard that lawsuit settlements are not taxable. That is only partially true. The lawsuit has to involve physical injury (think a car crash, for example) to be tax-free.

It appears that Mr Colton’s settlement was of the non-car crash variety, meaning that it was taxable.

R&A then amended their 2016 return, picking up the $62,500 but also claiming a miscellaneous itemized deduction of $80,075 for attorney fees.

Hah! They might even get a tax refund out of this, right? Take that, IRS.

Except …

Guess what is not deductible for the AMT.

Yep, that miscellaneous itemized deduction.

So – for AMT purposes – their income went up by the $62,500 but there was no deduction for the related legal fee.

How much income did R&A have before the IRS contacted them?

About $40 grand.

Yep, the AMT had been bent so far beyond recognition that it trapped someone amending a return to show perhaps $100 grand in income.

Folks, that income level does not go you invited to the cool parties on Martha’s Vineyard.

Let me share a line from the case:

Petitioners stated in their petition that ‘[they] never heard of [the] alternative minimum tax.”

I get it. I consider it unconscionable that an average person has to hire someone like me to prepare their taxes.  

Our case this time for the home gamers was Colton and Mazwin v Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2021-44.